Lael Rides Alaska: Touring the Dalton Highway and Gear Breakdown

Dalton Highway

We land in Deadhorse on the North Slope of Alaska in the evening under sunny skies and drag our cardboard bike boxes out of the single gate terminal. We’re the only passengers on the flight not starting a two-week work shift on the oil fields. The wind is ripping so fast, it’s hard to put the bikes together. We help each other. We velcro bags to our bikes and load up our camping gear. It’s cold enough that we put on all of our clothing layers. We cram days’ worth of food into every pack. The workers at the airport are kind and helpful. A woman gives us directions to the shop where we can buy a camping stove canister and a can of bear spray that we couldn’t bring on the plane. She asks us to leave our bike boxes in storage. They always save the big ones for hunters.

“Are you leaving in the morning?”

“No, we’re heading out tonight.”

It’s nearly 9pm. We’re both worn out, but we want to get going.

On the three-mile ride to the shop, the fog rolls in so thick it’s hard to see the road. The gravel is loose and we’re riding straight into the wind. The shop closed at 7pm, but the auto-parts place is still open and he has a key. They’ve saved our items behind the counter. I called it in yesterday. We pay and turn to head out.

“Would you take this with you?”

He gives me a rock that he’s painted. It’s the Disney character Stitch.

“It’s still a little wet. I just started painting rocks. Would you carry it with you and leave it somewhere near Fairbanks?”

That’s five hundred miles south and that’s where we’re going.


He breaks out in a grin.

“I just thought it would be cool if it was somewhere down there.”

I take the rock and we say goodbye. He wasn’t joking. When I pack it in my bag, some of the wet paint rubs off. We point south and the wind starts pushing us down the road. We’re flying through the fog. We pass the Deadhorse Camp. It’s our last chance for shelter for the next 240 miles (386km). It’s 10pm and icy cold. We could stay here, but we really don’t want to. We’ll just go for a couple of hours and set up camp if we really get too cold and that’s what we do.

The first twenty miles are pan flat. Then, the bluffs emerge and they’re hard to see through the fog, but they’re a sandy golden brown.

“You know the good thing about the cold? No mosquitoes!”

Thirty miles down the road, we set up the tent. The temperature is in the twenties. We huddle close and boil a pot of ramen for warmth and fall asleep. I’m exactly where I want to be. In the tent with my Rue and a long open stretch of road ahead. In the coming days, the bluffs become hills and then the Brooks Range and Atigun Pass, at 4,800’ (1,463m) it’s the highest road pass in the state. We take six days to ride the 500 miles (800km) of road with 33,000’ (10,050m) climbing. There’s only one pass along the way and the rest of the time it’s always rolling– punchy and steep. There are only two places to buy food in Coldfoot and on the Yukon River and they mostly just sell burgers.

There’s a private Arctic Research Center, Pipeline Pump houses, and a couple of Department of Transportation bunkhouses. No one really lives out here. There aren’t power lines or cell phone service or any other signs of human life, beyond a very well maintained dirt road and some big trucks that drive it. It’s wide-open land with fireweed and lupines and caribou and muskox. It’s harsh and hard and achingly beautiful. The first evening out, I see three grizzlies in the distance chasing each other at top speed.

We came back to Alaska to ride from home and share the stories of the roads. For most of the month of June, I put my heart into preparing for and racing the Kenai 250, spending time with my family, and officiating my best friend’s wedding. I feel an urgency to get to the north, to pedal the miles. I want Rue to see this and feel it and shoot it and share it. We book the first cheap flight and we go for it. It’s 5,000 Alaska Airline miles from Anchorage to Deadhorse.

We’re on our way.

I’m refilled with that feeling that I want to ride it all.

Our goals are different for this trip. It’s not a race, but I love to ride big days. Rue is on a Specialized Creo. It’s a gravel e-bike, a tool we’ve been dreaming of for years. Unloaded, it’s 27 pounds (just over 12 kg)– even if the battery died, it’d just be like riding a heavy bike (and not even that heavy!) Rue has it set up with a rack and panniers so she can carry extra heavy camera equipment and quickly get ahead to set up shots, or shoot from behind and catch up. The Dalton Highway is the true test for this bike as there are very few resources and we weren’t sure we’d always find places to charge it. The Creo has a maximum range of 120 miles (193km) in eco mode. Along the way, we find small pump houses and DOT stations with generators and power outlets. There aren’t too many of them, but when we find one, we take a break to plug in. It takes about two and a half hours to fully charge the bike. Just after the summer solstice, above the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets. There is plenty of time to fit it all in.

In less than a week, we make it down to Fairbanks. We host an outdoor event at Beaver Sports to talk about our ride. This tight-knit community gets each other through the winters when it can get down to -60F (-51C). They greet us with some much down to earth kindness.
The upcoming forecast back to Anchorage looks like straight rain.

“What about Nome?”

Just to the west, on the Seward Peninsula, Nome is the northern terminus of the Iditarod Trail, an iconic dog mushing race that lives in the heart of Alaska’s identity. It isn’t connected to the main road system, but has its own little set. There are three gravel roads out of Nome, each between 70-85 miles.

It’s rainy everywhere else, but it’s sunny in Nome.

“It’s your birthday this week. Let’s go there!”

Sometimes I think Rue will do anything to fill my heart with joy. She knows what makes me tick.

Lael’s setup
Bike​: 2021 Specialized Diverge Expert
EC90 AX wheels
EC70 AX handlebar
EA90 SL stem
EC90 SL ISA seatpost
EC90 SL Crankarms
Direct Mount Chainring 1x (40T)
Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket
Hope Tech RX4 brakes
Rene Herse Oracle Ridge tires (700 x 48mm, endurance casing) Ergon Women’s SR saddle
Mountain cassette (11-46t) Ultegra di2 levers
XT pedals

Revelate Designs
Ripio Frame Bag
Spinelock 10L seat pack
Pronghorn handlebar system (medium Dyneema drybag) Mag-Tank 2000
Custom XL Jerrycan
Mountain Feedbag
Revelate Designs x Wolf Tooth ToolCash
Topo Designs x Chaco Quick Pack Topo Designs Accessory bag (small)
Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM on a K-EDGE mount
Komoot on my iPhone as a backup
The Milepost paper maps & mileage logs

Women’s PRO bib short
BLVD Merino t-shirt
Rove long sleeve shirt
Summit Shell Jacket
M’s Vortex WxB hooded jacket W’s Monsoon WxB pant
PRO gel glove
Merino tall wool sock
Merino thermal sock
X-Alp Summit shoes
Topo Designs Women’s Tech Pants REI Minimalist GTX mittens Patagonia Nano Air vest
Adidas slides
Specialized Prevail II helmet Clear safety glasses Ombraz sunglasses
Cloth mask
2x Specialized Purist Water bottles

Other electronics:
Di2 charger
iPhone charger
Micro USB charger
2x 10,000 mAh power banks

Repair kit:
Wolf Tooth Encase Bar Kit One
Wolf Tooth Pack Pliers (with quick links) Sealant
Muc-Off valve cap with valve core remover Spare tube
Spare derailleur hanger
Shimano Di2 e-tube plug tool
Hand sanitizer
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Chapstick (we rubbed this on our face for lotion too– it’s really dry up there!)

Nemo Tango Duo double sleeping bag

Jetboil Flash cooking system Instant mashed potatoes Ramen
Dried blueberries Nuts
Cherry Tomatoes
Trail Butter
GU Roctane gels, drink mixes, liquid energy, chews

Rue’s setup
Bike: ​Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO
Easton EC90 SL ISA seatpost
Ergon Women’s SR road saddle (switching to Gilles Berthoud leather saddle this week) Shimano XT pedals
Axiom Streamliner Rack
Switching to Rene Herse Steilacoom tires (700×38, endurance casing)

Revelate Desgins
Nano Panniers
2x Mountain Feedbag
Pronghorn handlebar system (medium Dyneema drybag)
Custom waterproof camera handlebar bag
Prototype Shrew LP seat pack
MindShift Rotation 180 deg. panorama camera backpack
Specialized Purist water bottle Jojo Filter Bottle

PRO bib shorts
BLVD Merino t-shirt
BLVD Merino 1⁄4 zip
M’s Vortex WxB hooded jacket W’s Monsoon WxB pant Pulaski gloves
Merino wool socks
SIDI Dominator shoes
Nike slides
Patgaonia Nano Air Lite Hoodie Topo Designs Women’s Tech Pants REI Minimalist GTX mittens
Cloth mask

Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum
2x Therm-a-rest NeoAir UberLite sleeping pad

Repair kit:
Hand pump sealant

Specialized SL battery charger SL range extender
SL range extender battery
Camera equipment

Canon 5D Mark IV (digital)
Mamiya 645 AF medium format (film) (did not bring on Dalton Highway) Portra 400 film

Panasonic Lumix S1H (digital)
Canon lens adapter
Canon 310XL Super 8 (film)
Kodak VISION350D color negative film DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone
Mavic 2 Fly More kit
GoPro HERO 8
Sennheiser MKE 600 Shotgun Microphone Peak Designs Travel Tripod
H1n Microphone
Extra SD memory cards

24-105mm f/4
70-200mm f/2.8
50mm f/1.8
Tiffen 77mm variable neutral density filter Hoya 77mm NXT circular polarizer filter
Camera dust blower, q-tips, lens wipes

Specialized SL battery charger
SL range extender
SL range extender battery
Panasonic Lumix Charger with 2 extra batteries Canon Charger with 2 extra batteries
DJI Mavic charger with 2 extra batteries

***gear varies slightly from trip to trip depending on our needs. This was our packing list for the Dalton Highway.

A huge thank you to PEARL iZUMi, Revelate Designs, Easton Cycling, and Komoot for encouraging this project and helping us share our story.